3.11.2021 Update: After the initial posting of this blog, further research indicates that the Darien Solar Energy Center would have a *capacity factor likely closer to 0.24, not .30. Using this updated capacity factor of .24 for the Darien Solar Energy Center, emissions would decrease by 423,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 602,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 745,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 76,000 pounds of particulate matter (PM10) annually for the lifetime of the project. These emissions reductions would lead to decreased mortality of about one life per year, annual health savings between $15 to $34 million, and yearly climate savings of over $17 million
* Capacity factor expresses in percentage form the expected production of a power plant relative to its maximum possible output. This ratio takes into account variables such as maintenance-related downtime and the availability of the energy source fueling the plant. All power plants have a capacity factor of less than one.
Consider a solar farm sized to produce a theoretical maximum of 10,000 megawatt-hours/year. If the plant is estimated to have a capacity factor of 0.30, it can be expected to produce 3,000 megawatt-hours a year. A solar farm could not have a 1.0 capacity factor because the sun doesn’t shine all day. In fact, with nighttime constituting half of the hours in a year, a solar farm could not have a capacity factor greater than 0.50.
The Darien Solar Energy Center is a proposed 250-MW solar PV facility in Walworth county, Wisconsin currently under review at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. If approved, developers hope to have the project constructed and energized by 2023, offering significant health, environmental, and economic benefits to local Wisconsin communities.
Using the EPA’s Avoided Emission and Generation tool, RENEW Wisconsin estimates that the Darien Solar Energy Center could reduce emissions by 538 thousand tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), 700 thousand pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 1 million pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 98 thousand pounds of particulate matter (PM10) annually for the lifetime of the project. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter contribute to health problems including asthma, cardiopulmonary disease, and premature mortality. Fossil fuel power plants are the primary emission sources of these pollutants. Transitioning to the clean energy produced by the Darien solar project, Wisconsin would reduce its fossil fuel generation, providing significant human health and environmental benefits to its residents.
RENEW Wisconsin completed in-house research on the health benefits of the Darien project. Using the EPA’s Co-Benefit Risk Assessment model, the Darien Solar Energy Center is estimated to reduce mortality by up to one life per year for 30 years in Wisconsin. The health impacts are substantial for Wisconsin, a state highly dependent on coal-fired electricity generation. Energizing the Darien Solar Energy Center could directly save Wisconsin lives.
In addition to the health benefits of clean energy, there are also significant economic benefits this solar project could deliver. Using the EPA’s health benefit factors for Wisconsin, the annual savings ranged from $18 to $42 million depending on population, pollution burden, and other differentiating factors. Moreover, Darien could produce up to $22 million in annual savings resulting from avoided climate impacts. Climate impacts are estimated from the EPA’s social cost of carbon values. These monetized health impacts are significant and illustrate the benefits that the Darien Solar Energy Center could bring to the Wisconsin economy.
Overall, these findings detail the benefits that the Darien Solar Energy Center offers Wisconsin by reducing pollution, decreasing human mortality, helping to mitigate climate damages, and providing millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state. Other significant benefits related to Wisconsin GDP, employment, and environmental and water impacts were not discussed in this article. To learn more about the Darien Solar Energy Center and its additional benefits, please visit the Town of Darien website.
As part of its tenth annual Renewable Energy Summit, RENEW Wisconsin will recognize individuals and organizations who have made significant and lasting advances in renewable energy development here in Wisconsin.
Titled “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” this year’s Summit will be hosted virtually over three days from Tuesday, January 12th through Thursday, January 14th, 2021. The theme of this year’s event, “Building the Clean Energy Mosaic,” will highlight the diversity of technologies, people, and scale needed to shape our clean energy future.
Roster of 2020 awardees
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
Northwind Solar Cooperative, Amherst
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year:
Sid Sczygelski & Ali Wolf, Aspirus Health, Wausau
Charles Hua, Madison
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Oregon School District
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Two Creeks Solar Park, Manitowoc County
NextEra Energy Resources (developer)
Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (joint owner)
Madison Gas and Electric (joint owner)
Renewable Energy Business of the Year
NorthwindSolar Cooperative has been a fixture in Central Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace since 2007, operating principally in the residential and small commercial segments. Throughout its history, Northwind has been acutely conscious of the value of community ties. Northwind’s PV systems are a common sight in Amherst. The company has operated the Grow Solar – Central Wisconsin group purchase program for four straight years, designing and installing more than a megawatt of solar capacity for 168 residential customers. After the company reorganized itself as a worker-owned cooperative structure, Northwind committed to building a new headquarters building in Amherst Business Park that showcases its talents and services. With 44 kW of PV capacity and multiple battery configurations, Northwind’s new headquarters building invites prospective customers to pursue solar + storage as the energy package of the future.
Renewable Energy Catalysts of the Year
Aspirus Health is a health care organization serving much of central and northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with 10 hospitals, 50+ clinics, labs and other service-providing facilities within its system. In 2018 Aspirus launched a systemwide initiative to identify and implement strategies for slashing its energy overhead and scaling back its carbon footprint. Sid Sczygelski, chief financial officer of Aspirus, chairs this initiative, while Sustainability Director Ali Wolf directs and coordinates this ambitious undertaking. Their goal is to reduce carbon emissions systemwide 80% by 2030. Going into 2021, Sczygelski, Wolf and the Aspirus sustainability team have made great progress to date. Aspirus has integrated into its buildings more than 900 kilowatts of solar PV on its rooftops, saving more than $600,000/year in energy expenses. In 2021, Aspirus plans to double its use of solar energy systemwide and complete construction on its most energy-efficient facility yet, a clinic in Wausau.
In 2017, students and staff at Madison West High School started work on a campaign to power their school with a rooftop solar PV system. That year, Charles Hua, then a junior, took the helm of West Green Club and launched a fundraising and outreach campaign that blossomed into one of the largest youth-led sustainability efforts in Wisconsin. From June 2017 through 2019, the West Green Club raised nearly $90,000 from staff, students, parents and local foundations, accounting for nearly 50% of the cost of their 128 kW solar PV system. Installed last summer by Westphal Electric, Madison West’s solar system is now the largest array supplying electricity to a Madison Metropolitan School District building. The example set by Hua and West Green Club helped inspire the school district to adopt a 100% renewable goal for all of its facilities. Hua is now a junior at Harvard University.
Renewable Energy Champion of the Year
Long a leader in pursuing solar power for its operations, Oregon School District took advantage of an opportunity in 2018 to push the envelope on sustainability at its new Forest Edge Elementary School in Fitchburg. Collaborating with HGA’s Madison office, an architectural and engineering design firm, the school district financed and saw to completion the first net zero energy public school in Wisconsin. Equipped with a 646 kW rooftop solar array, a ground-source heat pump system and onsite battery storage, Forest Edge is an all-electric building. There is no gas connection to the school. Completed in the fall of 2020, Forest Edge represents a quantum leap in capturing, controlling and maximizing the economic value of sunshine and ground temperatures to heat, cool and power a building where many people congregate.
Renewable Energy Pioneer of the Year
Impatient with federal and state government inaction on climate change, Dane County decided to roll up it sleeves and get to work, starting in 2017 with the creation of the Office of Climate Change and Energy. The County’s approach to reducing fossil fuel use has been aggressive and remarkably systematic for a local government. A number of these actions bore fruit in 2020. These include:
Throwing the switch on a biogas processing plant in April that converts gas from landfill waste and cow manure into a pipeline-grade renewable fuel;
Releasing a Climate Action Plan, also in April, containing recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions countywide 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050;
Partnering with Madison Gas and Electric to host a 9-megawatt solar array on airport property and purchase the output from that project, under a long-term contract; and
Purchasing property in the Town of Cottage Grove to host a larger solar array that will enable the County to offset all of its electricity usage with zero-emission power.
Renewable Energy Project of the Year
Developed by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources in Manitowoc County, the 150-megawatt Two Creeks Solar Park was energized last November. It is now the largest power plant in the state of Wisconsin that is fueled by the sun. Jointly owned by Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric, Two Creeks effectively doubled solar generation capacity in Wisconsin, and its output will equal the electrical consumption of 33,000 residential households. Two Creeks was the first solar power plant to receive approval from the Public Service Commission, and the first to be approved as a utility-owned asset. Seeing Two Creeks to completion opens the door to a new chapter in electric power, one highlighted by the emergence of solar power as the cleanest, more affordable and least risky supply option available to Wisconsin electric providers.
This year’s summit program will also draw attention to other milestones and notable achievements in 2020, including the following:
The Public Service Commission approved two large solar farms—Badger State Solar and Paris Solar—that will add 349 MW of solar power to Wisconsin’s electric generation portfolio;
Madison Gas and Electric completed two smaller solar farms in its service territory, with a combined capacity of 14 MW, to supply several customers under contract and expand its shared solar program;
Grants from RENEW’s Solar for Good program resulted in 27 new solar installations across the state totaling 1,265 kW of operating capacity.
Two Eau Claire high schools—Memorial and North—celebrated the completion of their 126 kW solar arrays supported by Solar on Schools, a joint venture between the Couillard Solar Foundation and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
Eagle Point Solar installed 400 kW(AC) of PV capacity, serving four City of La Crosse-owned buildings.
On Sunday December 27th, President Trump signed a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that includes support for clean energy programs and the extension of two important renewable energy tax credits. The law provides support for the advancement of solar, wind, energy storage, research and development, and energy efficiency.
The renewable electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) have been instrumental to advancing renewable energy in the United States and the extension included in the recent omnibus bill will help ensure clean energy’s continued growth. The tax credits for wind and solar, in particular, are expected to spur vital economic investment.
Abby Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), sent a summary of key solar and energy storage provisions to local SEIA Chapters like RENEW Wisconsin. Below are highlights from her report:
Federal Tax Bill 2020 – Key Solar And Storage Provisions
Federal Tax Credits Extended: The solar investment tax credit (ITC) will remain at 26% for projects that begin construction in 2021 and 2022, step down to 22% in 2023, and down to 10% in 2024 for commercial projects while the residential credit ends completely. Companies beginning construction on projects in 2021 will still have a four-year period to place their projects in service to take advantage of the ITC, with the statutory deadline for projects placed in service reset to before January 1, 2026.
Reduce Barriers to Solar Adoption: $35 million appropriation for the Department of Energy (DOE), directing the Solar Energy Technologies Office to “reduce market barriers…to the adoption of solar energy technologies,” including “the development of best practices, models, and voluntary streamlined processes for local siting and permitting of distributed solar energy systems to reduce costs.”
Increase Funding for Solar Research: Boosts annual spending targets to $300 million per year through 2025 for DOE programs that improve solar PV energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, increase manufacturing and recycling of solar panels, and fund programs to integrate solar power into the grid;
Invest in Energy Storage Research: Directs $100 million per year through 2025 to a newly created Energy Storage System Research, Development, and Deployment Program at DOE, aimed at R&D to improve technologies ranging from distributed batteries and control systems for grid integration, long-duration storage technologies such as pumped hydro and compressed-air energy storage.
RENEW Wisconsin is thrilled to see this package come together and get signed into law. This new investment in clean energy is welcome news for Wisconsin’s renewable energy workers and has the potential to drive economic activity and clean energy investment in the coming years.
Update: The Request for Proposals (RFP) pursuant to the 2020 grant cycle of the Energy Innovation Grant Program has been posted on the Public Service Commission’s web site. You can access the RFP here. The due date for grant submissions is January 22, 2021.
October 19, 2020
The Public Service Commission approved $7 million in funding that will be awarded through the 2020 round of the Energy Innovation Grant Program (EIGP). The EIGP awards financial assistance that supports the Office of Energy Innovation’s mission relating to energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, planning and resilience. In the previous round in 2018, the EIGP distributed nearly $5 million to more than 100 recipients. EIGP presently has a cash balance of more than $26 million.
The final order (PSC REF# 398392) was issued on October 16th, setting forth elements including (1) eligibility criteria; (2) eligible activities; (3) program budget; (4) procedures for tracking and reporting; and (5) development of the Request for Proposals (RFP).
The most important decisions rendered by the Commission are itemized below, interspersed with tables providing greater granularity on the program design and schedule.
The following entities are eligible to seek funds through this program: manufacturers of all sizes; and cities, villages, towns, counties, K-12 school districts, tribes, municipal water and wastewater utilities, municipal electric utilities, municipal natural gas utilities, University of Wisconsin System campuses and facilities, Wisconsin Technical College System, public or nonprofit hospitals, and 501(3)(c) nonprofits (collectively MUSH Market).
A budget of $7 million was authorized for the upcoming round. This represents an increase of $2 million from the previous round. The allocations for each of the four program activities are listed below.
Projects involving all statutorily defined renewable energy resources are eligible for funding.
The additional $2 million were allocated to Activities 1 and 2.
Optional Available Funds Per Activity for 2020 Program Year
Maximum grant request
Available funds per activity
1. Renewable Energy + Energy Storage
22% up to $250,000
(solar PV only)
$500,000 (other RE)
$250,000 (energy storage system)
$500,000 (solar + storage)
$750,000 (other RE + storage)
2. Energy Efficiency + Demand Response
3. Electric + RNG Vehicles + Infrastructure
4. Comprehensive Energy Planning
The Commission also approved a timeline for the upcoming round of funding, the milestones of which appear in the table below.
Tentative 2020 Energy Innovation Grant Program Year Timeline
PSC consideration of 2020 Grant Program Design – final order issued
Final order issued; Circulate RFP 90-day application period
Review and score proposals
2020 EIGP Award recommendations considered; announce awards